Madison Heights passed an ordinance calling for reimbursement from DTE Energy if the utility is slow to respond to a downed wire or other hazard. Royal Oak passed a similar ordinance a year ago. City officials say they need to recoup some of the cost when firefighters or other city workers must stand guard until utility workers arrive.
The ordinances apply to all utilities but are aimed at Detroit Edison - the electrical subsidiary of DTE Energy. The tab runs hundreds of dollars per hour to keep firefighters on duty for a downed wire and unavailable to respond to other emergencies, said Madison Heights City Manager Jon Austin.
"All of the fire departments in Oakland County have been looking for a uniform way to assess these charges," Austin said, about the unanimous city council vote for the ordinance. Madison Heights and Royal Oak officials insist that Edison has been taking longer in recent years to respond, a charge the utility denies.
"We do respond to these situations quickly, but we don't have a truck waiting a mile away like fire departments do," said DTE Energy spokesman Scott Simons. "But I can tell you flat out," he added, "if we're in a community where there's a dedicated fire millage, we're not going to pay" - because DTE Energy pays its share of property taxes and expects to be served by firefighters just like any other taxpayer.
Both Madison Heights and Royal Oak have a property-tax millage dedicated to buying fire trucks. Royal Oak finance director Don Johnson said that Edison had initially paid the invoices, "but then they quit." The tab now stands at about $45,000. Edison executives said they are waiting for their parent company to complete a company policy on the issue. Madison Heights plans to begin charging Edison after an hour of waiting.
The state agency that regulates utilities has a longer time frame. The Michigan Public Service Commission has a rule requiring that utilities respond to a downed wire within four hours, "at least 90% of the time under all conditions," said Judy Palnau, a spokeswoman for the agency in Lansing.